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Kathleen Funchion: 'I fear the Mother and Baby Home developments have only compounded an existing and deep hurt'

Funchion, who is chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Children, describes her shock over recent issues with the Mother and Baby Home Commission.

Kathleen Funchion

LIKE MANY PEOPLE, I was shocked and stunned when I heard that one of the Commissioners of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission would be speaking at an academic seminar yesterday.

The Oireachtas Committee on Children, which I chair, has been trying since January to ensure that one of the Commissioners appears before our committee and answers key questions about their report.

When the Chair of the Commission was invited to come before the committee in January this invite was declined. When the invitation was extended to other Commissioners, they too declined and refused to attend.

Survivors had made known their shock and distress at the apparent refusal of Commissioners to answer their questions. They engaged with the Commission in good faith because they wanted the truth to come out and for their voices to be heard. The report which followed has been controversial and caused huge distress for many survivors.

This has been compounded by the apparent refusal of Commissioners to answer questions before the Oireachtas committee.

Scrolling through Twitter on Tuesday, I was shocked to see an advert for one of the Commissioners, Professor Mary Daly, who was speaking at an event organised by Oxford University. The event was advertised as being for academics only and closed to the wider public.

Understandably, survivors were deeply hurt and confused by this development. They wanted to know why would Professor Daly refuse to come before the Oireachtas but break her silence now to fellow academics behind closed doors?

I believe survivors have been treated appallingly throughout the process of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission and I fear that this week’s developments have only compounded this existing and deep hurt. It has rubbed salt into an already very deep and raw wound.

According to media reports, at the seminar this week Professor Daly made a number of shocking and frankly outrageous revelations including that survivors’ testimonies were disregarded because the Commission’s terms of reference from the start did not permit them to be included in a meaningful way. This is scandalous. I fear these remarks could undermine the work of Professor Daly in this commission and undermine the report.

As Chair of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee, I have spoken to my fellow committee colleagues who share my shock and outrage at these developments.

We intend to write to all three Commissioners again to re-issue our invite for them to attend the Committee. They must answer questions that survivors have, if survivors are to have any confidence in the Commission and its report.

Survivors need to know: when did the Commission form the view that the terms of reference excluded meaningful inclusion of survivors testimonies? What steps did the Commissioners take to resolve this? Did they continue with the process, without telling survivors that this was their view? Why didn’t they raise these concerns in any of the interim reports?

For far too long, survivors have been left in the dark and treated as an afterthought. This must not be allowed to continue.

My thoughts today are with all the survivors who are affected by these developments. They came forward to speak at the Commission and bravely share their often harrowing experiences because of their determination that the truth comes out. They did so at often huge personal cost, given the distressing and deeply personal nature of their testimonies. They did so because they believed it was the right thing to do and they wanted the truth to be on show for all to see.

The way that survivors have been treated by the Commission for many years now is so shocking that it is almost impossible to put in to words. The Commissioners must do the right thing now and come before the Oireachtas Committee if they are to retain any credibility.

I am also calling on the government to step up and do much more to protect survivors’ needs. Minister Roderic O’Gorman is not a passive bystander in this – responsibility for these processes ultimately lies with him. I am calling on him to contact the Commissioners and back my call for them to come before the Oireachtas. He must make it clear in no uncertain terms that survivors deserve better than this.

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The Commissioners must come before the Oireachtas Children’s Committee and answer these important questions.

Survivors deserve nothing less than the truth.

Kathleen Funchion TD is Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children and TD for Carlow-Kilkenny.

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Kathleen Funchion

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